Science

IN our scientific gossip for June, we gave a brief account of some of the interesting conclusions which have been reached concerning the connection between solar spots, the aurora borealis, and the positions of several of the planets. It was observed that sun-spots regularly increase and diminish in frequency through periods of about eleven years ; that the amount of magnetic disturbance upon the earth’s surface depends intimately upon the frequency of sun-spots ; and that there is a curious relation between the appearance of the spots and the positions of those planets which, by reason either of size or of proximity, are able to exert considerable gravitative force upon the solar atmosphere. Respecting the parallelism between the three orders of phenomena, as established by elaborate observations, there can be no doubt whatever. But for a thorough scientific explanation of the parallelism we have perhaps still long to wait. We can only conjecture, with much plausibility, that the gravitative force of Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn produces marked tidal phenomena in the sun’s atmosphere, thus causing variations in those cyclonic solar storms which we call sunspots ; and that, in some way, variations in solar magnetism thus produced bring about variations in the magnetic currents of the earth and other planets.

To the number of apparently disparate phenomena thus grouped together, it is now sought to add another still less obviously connected class of facts. Mr. B. G. Jenkins, of London, has observed that cholera epidemics have a period of recurrence equal to a period and a half of sun-spots. Reckoning, for example, from the year 1800, which was a minimum year of sun-spots, we get, says the author, “ as a period and a half the date 1816.66, which was shortly before the great Indian outbreak ; another period and a half gives 1833.33, a year in which there was a maximum of cholera ; another, 1849.99, that is, 1850, a year having a maximum of cholera; another, 1866.66, a year having a maximum of cholera ; another, 1883.33, as the year in which there will be a cholera maximum. It follows from what has been already said that 1783.33 would be a year in which cholera was at a maximum. Now it is a fact, that in April 1783, there was a great outbreak of the disease at Hurdwar.” To all this add the interesting fact that “ the number of deaths from cholera in any year, for example, the deaths in Calcutta during the six years 1865 - 1870, increased as the earth passed from perihelion, especially after March 21, came to a minimum when it was in aphelion [July 1], and increased again when it passed to perihelion, and notably after equinoctial day.”

In view of the possibility thus suggested, that the progress of cholera may be influenced by effects wrought upon the earth’s atmosphere by the sun’s changes, it is interesting to observe the results which have been obtained from a comparison of the various routes upon which the disease is wont to travel. Mr. Jenkins holds that there are seven centres, or originating points of the disease. Of these the most conspicuous is the region about the mouth of the Ganges. The others are on the west coast of Africa, in Arabia north of Mecca, in the east of China, in the Sandwich Islands, in a portion of the Pacific near Lower California, and in the Atlantic north of the West Indies. From these centres or foci, at the cholera periods, there proceed cholera currents about fourteen hundred miles in breadth ; and at some of the epochs of cholera maximum, all these streams are simultaneously in motion. This was the case in 1833, in 1850, and in 1866.

The direction of the cholera currents is northwest and southwest: in 1818, for example, the disease, starting at Calcutta, advanced in these two directions in such a way that all places attacked by it on the one line were situated at right angles to the places visited on the other line. In this way the stream coming from India attacks Russia and Scandinavia, but leaves the remainder of Europe unharmed ; while the stream coming from Arabia visits Southern and Western Europe, but does not affect Russia. The conduct of the five other streams is quite similar. Accordingly, if a terrestrial globe be covered with a system of bands running in a northwest and in a southwest direction from the seven cholera centres, and representing the cholera streams, the portions covered by these bands will represent the portions of the earth’s surface which have been visited by the disease during the past century ; while the areas intercepted between the bands represent geographical areas which have uniformly escaped from the cholera. So strictly does it seem to have been confined within the limits here laid down, that ships far out at sea have been suddenly smitten with cholera on entering the path of its progress, and upon emerging from the fatal track have as suddenly found relief.

Any theory affording a physical explanation of these interesting facts would at present be premature. It must be left for critics especially acquainted with the history of cholera to verify Mr. Jenkins’s facts. If his statements are accurate, we have, in the definite paths travelled over by the disease at definite periods, a very significant circumstance. Such a fact points to the conclusion that the periodical outbreak and spread of cholera are determined, not by local miasma so much as by causes affecting the whole earth considered as a planet. Whether these causes are in any way associated with the periodic variations in terrestrial magnetism due to solar agency, must for the present remain doubtful. Certainly we have not now at command any data for a deductive explanation of such an association, and it may very likely turn out that the agreement of two cholera periods with three periods of sun-spots is after all an accidental or empirical coincidence. Even accepting the coincidence as one which may by and by be found to possess a physical significance, we are confronted by the apparent anomaly, not yet by any means explicable, that the epochs of maximum disease correspond alternately with epochs of minimum and of maximum disturbance of the earth currents. Here is a point which demands explanation. Nevertheless, even as it stands, the correspondence is well worth noting as furnishing suggestive hints for future observers. When we have learned that the compass-needle, poised in its box upon our table, is at this moment swayed on its pivot by a tornado raging ninety-two million miles away in the fiery atmosphere of the sun, there is little room left us for astonishment or incredulity if we are next informed that the same gigantic tornado may be indirectly interfering with the functions of our livers. Only the information must be duly certified by patient inquiry, and neither accepted because it is wonderful nor rejected because it is strange. If verified, it will add but one more to the host of facts which are daily teaching us to look upon the universe as a sort of boundless jelly, which if it be anywhere shaken, will quiver to its farthest end. The dreams of the old astrology, too, will be curiously realized if it turn out that a terrestrial epidemic is in such wise dependent on the commotion excited in the sun by planetary gravitation that, for instance, the baleful conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn might visit the nations with a plague.

Since the time when Liebig classified alcohol along with starch, sugar, and fat as one of the heat-producing foods, the questions have been seriously discussed, whether alcohol is really heat-producing, and whether it is a food. Strictly defined, a food is any substance which supports life by undergoing chemical transformation within the body and by becoming incorporated with the tissues. It is with reference to this definition that the controversy concerning alcohol has been carried on. Yet that this definition, however good in its way, is liable to be practically misleading, is obvious from the fact that water, which, as being absolutely essential to the support of life, is entitled to be called a food, nevertheless percolates untransformed through the tissues, and quits the body in the same chemical condition in which it enters it. Whether alcohol is to be practically regarded as a food or not, depends not so much upon whether it is oxidized within the body as upon whether it actually contributes toward the support of life in the total absence of other foods. Upon this latter point there is now no question : it is certain that wine or spirits will prolong life for a considerable time without the aid of other means of sustenance. The former point, however, — a point of great scientific interest,—still remains undecided. It has been ably argued by Lallemand, Duroy, and Perrin, that all alcohol taken into the system is eliminated without change ; while, on the other hand, Baudot, Dupré, Wallowicz, and Anstie have vigorously opposed this statement. Lately Dr. Subbotin has conducted some elaborate experiments upon rabbits, with a view to the further elucidadation of this difficulty. Alcohol of the strength of 29 per cent (about the strength of strong port or sherry) was injected into

the rabbit’s stomach, and all the excretions were afterwards carefully examined. As a result, it was found that during the twenty-four hours following the injection, at least 16 per cent of the alcohol was eliminated either as unchanged alcohol or as aldehyde. Though Dr. Subbotin is inclined to agree with Lallemand and his coadjutors, it would seem that this experimental result is by no means sufficient to determine the case. By far the larger portion of the injected alcohol failed to reappear in the excretions ; and the appearance of aldehyde is a positive fact in favor of the view that the alcohol is at least partially transformed. That some alcohol is always or usually eliminated unchanged is denied by no one who knows that wine can be detected in the breath. When we remember how rapidly alcohol is absorbed into the blood, it would be indeed strange if some of it were not soon given off through the lungs and skin. The question, however, is whether the whole of the quantity taken in is ejected without being temporarily assimilated ; and this point Dr. Subbotin has by no means made out. His paper may be found in the Zeitschrft für Biologie, Band VII. Heft 4.